Puma Perl

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Delusions of All Right

Nobody tells you how small you become
Everything around you grows larger,
more complicated

Keys stop turningArtwork by Gene McCormick
Computers start crashing
You keep losing

Money, hearing, vision
Friends, teeth, dreams

I’ve never been an optimist,
but somehow believed
I’d never grow old

It’s all in your mind
we tell ourselves
Until our bodies break

Some days
even the dog makes me angry
All she does is sleep
and stare at me balefully
We don’t walk for miles anymore
and we like to take naps

I can’t afford cosmetic surgery
I hate the smell of cat food
I don’t like game shows
I won’t go to “the center”
or the doctor or the old lady store
I won’t wear pants with elastic waists

Don’t call me ma’am
Don’t speak too loudly
Don’t speak too softly
Don’t speak too slowly
Just don’t talk to me at all

Every week I return to the gym
Every month I stop going
In between, I eat chocolate

I write a letter to my kids

Please kill me
I forgot your names
I’m sitting on a lawn chair
The phone is ringing
Take that machine
out of my house
Kill me

They refuse to kill me
Occasionally, we eat dinner together
I try to follow the conversation
Sometimes it’s too noisy to hear,
other times I’m just bored

Every interaction
is examined for traces
of condescension

I hate saying what?
So I spend hours searching
for items in large supermarkets
I’d rather ride the wrong train
than ask directions

My possessions hide from me
Oh, there it is
I say
Forty times on Sunday

I gain weight,
I use less space

Sometimes when I’m out
I think about the dog’s smile
and the book I’m reading
and the purple quilt on my bed
There’s a ferry under my window
The river wakes me at night
I lie in bed and worry about money
and whether I should sell my car
and the cost of hearing aids

Maybe I’ll become a shut-in
and read books all day, eliminating
the need to drive and understand
the sounds of other people

It’s March, 2019,
and nothing is all right

Why did I ever think it would be?

Springtime in Bodega Alley

It is 2:15 and the sun has come out.
I stopped at the Halal stand on my way home.
Chicken over yellow rice with salad.
Five dollars plus tip.
I carry it in a white plastic bag.

A man twirls a closed umbrella in Bodega Alley.
His friend has shoulder-length gray hair
and looks like a Latino Frank Zappa.
The umbrella man calls me “Young Lady.”
Have a nice evening, Young Lady, he says.
It’s only 2:15, I respond, but thanks.
Well, have a nice evening, anyway,
and enjoy your food, he responds.
(Like they say, buy some chicken on Delancey,
they know about it on Henry Street.)
Thank you, enjoy your afternoon, I respond.
I don’t know why I found it necessary
to assert the proper time of day.
He didn’t seem to mind.

The woman who sells oils sits in front of Superior Deli.
She usually sits across from it.
She is arguing loudly with a man I don’t recognize,
interrupts herself to tell me to say hello
to Diva the Wonder Dog as I pass.
And your daughter! she adds,
Say hello to your daughter!
and resumes yelling at the man.

The Vietnam Vet has moved from his wheelchair to a walker.
There is a turquoise colored folded kitchen table next to him.
He’s reading what looks like Christian tracts,
but might be take-out menus.
Several women also sit in walkers.
They stare at nothing.

Tonight, it will look the same, but sound louder.
Once, at 2AM, there was a radio blaring disco
and couples danced the hustle.
A few men spun around by themselves.

Another time, on a particularly good Sunday afternoon,
Somebody set up a boom box.
A Stylistics song played on repeat.

            Let the Sideshow begin
            Hurry, hurry step right on in
            Can’t’ afford to pass it by
            Guaranteed to make you cry..

A man stood by the radio, smiling
and shaking hands with everyone who passed by.
It felt how church probably feels for people who like church.
Or it felt like God, just for a minute, in Bodega Alley.


I woke up at 4AM Artwork by Gene McCormick
Ate a banana
Waited for the rain
Turned the television on
Tuned into apocalyptic sadness
Turned it off
Turned it back on
Some therapists suggest
that their patients
watch happy shows
before bedtime
in order to prevent
and insomnia
like The Three Stooges
jabbing one another in the eye
Swinging frying pans
at people’s heads
Tweaking noses
with monkey wrenches
Or I Love Lucy
Fred hated Ethel
Ricky drank, gambled
and philandered,
split Lucy’s lip
more than once
All of those people are dead
No longer funny
Rain hitting metal
put me to sleep
In the morning
I was awakened
by the smell of fruit
and somebody laughing
Banana peel
on the window sill,
television tuned
to Comedy Central.


Puma Perl is a poet, writer, and journalist, and has four solo collections in print and a fifth due to be published in 2019. She is the producer and creator of Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, which brings spoken word together with rock and roll, and she performs regularly with her band, Puma Perl and Friends. She is the recipient of three NY Press Association awards (2015-17) and of the Acker Award in writing, 2016.